The most popular TV cable channel (okay, it’s Fox News) likes to label its pre-election coverage as “Decision 2014”—or Decision 2012, or whatever the current election year is. It’s an apt name. It’s a time when the American electorate will decide which of the candidates will represent them for the next two, four, or six years.
This year, the election presents an additional kind of decision time. On Nov. 4 the American electorate soundly repudiated Barak Obama, the Democrat Party, and the direction they’ve taken the nation for the past six years. For the most part, the Republicans didn’t run on a platform of new things they wanted to do. They ran on a platform of opposing the direction Obama and the Democrats have taken the country. Now that they’ve won control of the Senate, strengthened their majority in the House, and won a majority of the state houses, they have to do something. Where should they start?
One columnist harkened back twenty years to the election of 1994, when the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress for the first time in forty years. Their success, it was generally agreed, was at least partially due to the fact that during the campaign the Republican National Committee published a document called the “Contract with America.” Written by House Minority Leader Newt Gingrich and House Minority Whip Dick Armey, the Contract laid out a very specific program of legislation the Republicans promised to pursue if the people elected them.
I’ll not spend time discussing the Contract. A curious reader can Google “Contract with America” and find a great deal of information. The point I want to make is that this columnist expressed the opinion that during the 2014 campaign the Republicans shouldn’t have stopped with running against the policies and actions of Obama and the Democrats. They should have written and published a new Contract with America—a statement of what they want to do instead of what the Democrats have done.
I respect this columnist and read him often, but in this case I disagree with him. The reason is very simple. If you promise to do something then fail to do it, you come off looking foolish…or dishonest…or impotent…or all of the above.
In 1994 the Contract with America promised that in their first session the Republicans would propose eight major reforms to Congressional rules. Those reforms included things like a rule that the Congress could not exempt itself from the laws it passed. (In case the reader isn’t aware of it, Congress routinely exempts its members, and in some cases their staffers, from the laws it makes.)
The implication was that these eight reforms would be passed by the Republican majority and would become Congressional policy.
As promised, all eight were introduced, debated, and voted on. All eight were defeated—by the Republican majority. Today, twenty years later, not one of the reforms has yet been adopted.
The Contract also outlined ten pieces of legislation that would be introduced in the first year. All ten were, in fact, introduced. Of that number, only two became laws that are still in effect. Several never made it thru Congressional debate, defeated by Republican representatives and senators who didn’t agree with them even though the Republican National Committee had committed the Party to them.
Several more were vetoed by President Clinton, and the Republicans were unable to muster the votes to override the veto. One was passed but was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
So out of eighteen major legislative promises made in the Contract, only two were eventually kept. That’s not a very good record. In my opinion, that poor record had much to do with the fact that the Republicans weren’t able to extend their electoral success into the 1996 election, and by the time the 1998 election came around, both Republicans and Democrats (as well as the American electorate) had pretty much forgotten about the Contract with America.
Like the rock ‘n’ roll singer who comes up with a number one hit then fades back into obscurity, the Contract with America had its fifteen minutes of fame—then vanished.
Before I get back to the 2014 election, let me say something else about the 1994 Republicans. As I said, they hadn’t controlled the Congress since 1954. For forty years they had been the minority party. That means that an entire generation of Republicans, and most of a second generation, had come and gone without the Republican Party needing strong leaders, men who could carry the flag into new legislative territory and inspire others to follow.
After being sworn in January of 1995 the Republicans realized they had no leaders. They figuratively looked around and said, “Okay, what do we do now?”
The Democrat leadership was happy to “help” them. They began ”advising” the Republicans on what they needed to do, and by 1997 the Democrats were firmly back in control of both houses of Congress. On paper the Republicans had a majority of votes, but they cast those votes the way the Democrat leadership “suggested.”
From 1997 until the Democrats regained a voting majority in 2007, the Republican Congresses were indistinguishable from the twenty Democrat Congresses that had preceded them. They voted for bigger government, higher taxes, more spending, bigger deficits, and more debt. By the election of 2006, many voters scornfully referred to the Republican Party as “Democrat Light.” One still hears that sobriquet from time to time.
Getting back to today: the first thing the 2014 Republicans will have to deal with is that, like the Democrats of 1994, Obama and the Democrats are not going to give up the reins of power willingly. The Republican leadership is going to have to abandon their “nice guy” policies of the past, their “reach across the aisle” and “go along to get along” tactics.
Obama in particular, blessed with a Congress that wouldn’t or couldn’t stop him for the past six years, has grown accustomed to ruling by fiat. The legislative power given to the Congress by the Constitution has been usurped by the Executive Order.
Obama’s public statements, beginning the morning after the election, have made it clear that as far as he’s concerned, nothing has changed. In the meeting with Congressional leaders the following Friday he said he wants the Republicans to bring their ideas to him. He will decide “whether or not they work.” Those he approves of he will allow the Congress to move ahead with. The others must be abandoned.
He has also made it clear that if they don’t give him what he wants, he will accomplish what he wants by Executive Order.
Obama has clearly thrown down the gauntlet. He doesn’t intend to give up one iota of the unprecedented (and unconstitutional) power a gridlocked Congress has allowed him to assume. Unless the Republicans forcibly strip him of that power, by 2016 the U.S. will be a monarchy, not a republic.
The second thing the Republicans must do, and they must do it quickly, is make public a legislative agenda that is specific and achievable.
By “specific,” I mean that vague phrases like “create more jobs” and “secure the borders” aren’t going to gain them any public support. They must itemize the specific things they intend to legislate.
By “achievable,” I mean the leadership needs to assure they can produce enough votes to actually pass the measures they propose. That’s the problem the 1994 Republicans faced. The Contract with America turned out to be not a Republican Party proposal, but Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey’s idea of what the Party should propose. When the rank-and-file congressmen read the document, they found that for one reason or another they couldn’t support some of the promises. That’s why sixteen of the eighteen promises never became law.
Are there other stumbling blocks endangering the resurgence of the Republican Party? Regretfully, yes. What appears to the outside observer to be a single political entity is, in fact, two distinctly different and in many ways opposing factions.
By far the largest faction is the old-line establishment Republicans, the people who half a century ago were called “Rockefeller Republicans.” They consider themselves “moderates,” and their political position is slightly right of center. They’re nice guys who have advocated (and practiced) policies of “reach across the aisle” and “go along to get along.” Even when they had a voting majority they didn’t tell their opponents that it’s “my way or the highway.” They voluntarily offered compromises that gave the Democrats at least some of what they wanted.
The other faction, newer and smaller, is the conservative wing. Their political position is firmly on the right. They advocate for smaller government, lower taxes, a strong military, a strong foreign policy, and a free-enterprise economy unfettered by government regulation. Their mantra comes from Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address: “Government is not the answer to our problem. Government is the problem.”
The word “compromise” isn’t in the conservative vocabulary. They’ve seen too many instances where the moderate Republicans gave the Democrats what they wanted in exchange for a promise that the Democrats would give concessions at some later date—a date that never came.
This schism in the Party creates not one but two ways in which the Party might still snatch defeat from the jaws of this victory. One—and in my opinion the most likely—is that the moderates will continue with their willingness to compromise, to give Obama and the Democrats some of what they want.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different outcome. The moderate wing of the Republican Party has been compromising with the Democrats for at least half a century. Unless they find the will to stop now, their efforts are doomed to failure. As happened in 1994, the Democrats will soon be in control again.
The other possibility is that the small group of conservatives might choose to vote with the Democrats, in opposition to the moderate Republicans. I find it hard to believe they would do that, but if they did the moderates would lose every vote and nothing would be accomplished.
One more comment about the legislative agenda. One of the major issues the new Congress is going to have to deal with, along with the economy and immigration, is healthcare. Obama has already stated very explicitly that he will veto any attempt to repeal Obamacare. With that as a starting point, the Democrat leadership has already started proposing that instead of trying to repeal Obamacare, the Congress should just “fix” it. Modify those sections that have proved to be problematic.
The problem is, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the entire law is problematic. Fixing what’s wrong with it is going to mean rewriting every section.
This is where the tendency of the moderates to compromise is going to pose the greatest threat. If the moderate Republicans agree to what Obama and the Democrats will claim are compromises, the end result is going to be an increase in federal power, not a decrease. The so-called “Affordable Care Act” is going to be worse than it was before.
We need to be very specific with our elected representatives: Get the federal bureaucrats out from between us and our doctors. Repeal Obamacare, or defund it, or find some way to get it off our backs. Write a new law that will fix what’s really wrong with our healthcare system without giving the federal government control over it.
A comedian on TV recently put it very well. “If you think the Post Office is well run, wait ‘till you see what the government does with healthcare.”
So let’s assume for a moment that the Republicans get their heads on straight and pass their legislative agenda, not the one Obama has given them permission to pass. The bills make their way thru both houses of Congress and go to the President’s desk, where he vetoes them. What then?
For the past four years the Congress has been mired in gridlock. The House has rejected the bills the Senate has passed. The Senate has rejected the bills the House has passed.
(Or just not voted on them. Harry Reid has “pigeonholed” 352 bills the House passed and sent to the Senate. The bills ranged from minor budget items to the repeal of Obamacare. Reid didn’t allow the Senate to debate or vote on any of them.)
Almost nothing has gone to the President so he has ruled by fiat, even though the Constitution gives him no authority to do so.
Because almost nothing has been passed by Congress, the Democrats have repeatedly accused the Republicans of being obstructionists. The liberal media has referred to the Republicans as “the party of no.”
(Why the Republicans didn’t accuse the Democrats of being obstructionists is another good question. It has to do with the Republicans wanting to be “nice guys,” and nice guys don’t name-call or point fingers. The Democrats have no such inhibition.)
So when the time comes that the Congress is passing bill after bill and the President is vetoing one bill after another, who becomes the obstructionist? Who is responsible for the economy still being weak, healthcare costing more than ever, the borders being wide open to terrorists and drug smugglers, and the Islamic State taking over more and more of the Middle East?
I predict it wouldn’t be long before some of the Democrats in Congress abandoned their liberal/socialist ideology and joined with the Republicans to override some of those Presidential vetoes and pass legislation that would get the country moving again. If they don’t, the 2016 election will be a Democrat bloodbath that will make 2014 look like a picnic in the park.
I believe these next two years will see either the rebirth of the Republican Party, or its death. If it’s a rebirth, America will return to being a true two-party republic as our founders intended.
We, the voters, are not entirely powerless in how those two years unfold. We need to let our elected representatives know what we want, and that we will hold them directly responsible for making it happen.